Small business acts like a big giver
Dana Lacey, Financial Post, October 31, 2009
There is nothing quite like your first bike ride: That mix of fear and pride, the freedom, the sparkle streamers. Every child should experience that, says Pat McNamara, chief executive of Apex Public Relations Inc. Her Toronto-based company created On Your Bike!, a nonprofit organization that donates bicycles to children that wouldn’t otherwise get one.
“Everyone remembers getting their first bike and what it meant for them, whether we had money or not,” Ms. Mc-Namara says. On Your Bike! launched in 2003. In past years, volunteers collected donated children’s bikes at annual bike drives, cleaned and repaired them and gave them to children’s charities. Most of the bikes donated are nearly new (in other words, outgrown). To mark Apex’s 10th anniversary, Ms. McNamara donated $10,000 to purchase 120 new bicycles from Norco Performance Bikes. Norco, a bicycle manufacturer based in Port Coquitlam, B.C., offered a discount, which means more children got bikes.
Ms. McNamara lets children’s charities like the Boys and Girls Club and ProAction Cops & Kids decide which children get the gift of a bike. On a Saturday in early October, 120 kids — from toddlers to tweens — showed up at Toronto bike shop Cyclepath to pick up their new rides.
Ms. McNamara is no stranger to philanthropy. She launched Apex in 1998, and quickly built a successful small business which today employs 30 people. Apex has proved that you don’t have to be big to be charitable. The company started with some pro bono work for worthy causes: It is currently donating its PR skills to promote Girl Impact!, an organization that empowers disadvantaged Canadian girls and sends Kenyan girls to high school.
But Ms. McNamara wanted to do more. “It’s great to donate to some of the bigger charities, but you’ll get more employees involved in ventures like this.” In addition to On Your Bike!, which is organized and run by employee volunteers, Ms. McNamara also launched an employee-driven annual charity event.
“I wanted to do something that would engage our employees and really help us feel like we owned the project,” she says. “I figured if we owned it, we’d feel more passionate about making it happen.”
Every year, Apex designates $25,000 to various charities, with a focus on disadvantaged women and children.
“We have a lot of women working for us,” Ms. McNamara explains. “The employees decide who the money goes to.” They can get up to $2,000 each to donate to a charity or project of their choice, but first they have to do the legwork and write a pitch for why the charity deserves the money.
“I feel we have an obligation to help people. And it’s important to pass that on to our employees,” says Ms. McNamara. “They like getting involved in something non-commercial, and it gives some of our less-experienced staff a chance to use their skills.”